Quenneville hits major milestone, has Panthers playing full of confidence
Quenneville becomes second coach to win 900 NHL games
SUNRISE, Fla. – The Florida Panthers are nearing the quarter pole of the season.
The young and unproven team playing for its new, legendary head coach are 20 games in, and all things considered, it's hard to be anything but pleased with the result.
Twelve of those 20 games have come away from Sunrise, with an eight-day western Canadian road trip and a schedule comprised almost entirely of playoff teams from last season thrown on top of the expected growing pains that come from playing for a new coaching staff and learning a new system.
But here they are, on pace for 102 points while seemingly still working toward hitting their stride. It certainly isn't far-fetched to believe that better times still lie ahead for Joel Quenneville and his Panthers.
With Saturday's win over the New York Rangers, Florida improved to 10-5-5 on the season, yet to lose consecutive games in regulation.
"We lose one, we battle back," Panthers winger Jonathan Huberdeau said after the victory. "We come out, and we don't lose two in a row. That's our identity, and that's what we want to keep doing the whole season."
That's one of the big differences between this season's incarnation of the Panthers and past ones; even when they falter, they're still picking up points.
Just ask the 2017-18 Panthers, who finished one point out of a playoff spot, or the 2008-09 Panthers, who tied for last playoff spot only to miss out on a tiebreaker. There have also been countless other Florida teams that dug themselves such massive early-season holes that come springtime, they were so exhausted and drained from spending the year climbing out they had nothing left for the real challenge, the playoff race.
Clearly, that's not going to be the case this season.
"It definitely feels different this year," said Panthers center Vincent Trocheck. "There's a confidence in the room. We know we're a good team."
It's a word that has been heard quite a bit when speaking to Florida players since the season began.
After asking around as to what is giving everyone this overwhelming sense of poise and self-assurance, the recurring theme is Quenneville.
Positive reinforcement. Open communication.
Quenneville arrived in Florida with a reputation as a player's coach. After two months of watching him coach, hearing him speak and listening to his players, it's becoming increasingly evident why Q has such a sterling reputation.
It's also clear why he's had so much success during his coaching career, and the team was able to share in a fairly big milestone with their leader after Saturday's game.
Florida's win over the Rangers was Quenneville's 900th as an NHL head coach.
"That's a lot of wins. That's amazing," Panthers defenseman Keith Yandle said after the game. "Obviously, (it's) great to have him on our side now, and hopefully we get a lot more for him."
Said Huberdeau: "It's quite an accomplishment for him. Nine hundred is a lot of wins."
Quenneville, the down-to-earth, humble guy that he is, said it was flattering to be mentioned in the same breath as Scotty Bowman, the only other coach in NHL history to reach 900 wins, but as he preaches to his players, he never seems too high or too low.
"We're looking for 901 right now. That's the way we look at it," he said.
ASSIST KING HUBY
Huberdeau hit a milestone of his own Saturday, passing Stephen Weiss for most assists in Panthers franchise history.
With three helpers Saturday night, Huberdeau now has 252 during his eight-year career, passing Weiss' mark of 249.
"It's nice," Huberdeau said after the game. "It's an accomplishment. I'm really happy. I couldn't do it without a lot of the guys here, obviously Barky and Daddy, as well."
Huby has been on quite a tear of late, picking up 14 points (4-10-14) over his last eight outings. He's got 27 points in 20 games this season, putting him on pace for quite the career year.
Last season, Huberdeau reached new marks in goals, assists and points (30-62-92) while playing in all 82 games for Florida.
His current pace, stretched out over a full schedule, has Huby finishing the season with 110 points.
Sure, it's a lofty goal, but it's undoubtedly attainable.
The former third overall pick and Calder Trophy winner has spent his entire career with the Panthers and is entering into the prime years of his career.
"It's been eight years (with a) great organization, and it's good to be first in assists," he said.
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